OVERVIEW OF PROPHECY
Prophecy is fore-telling what is going to happen. A large percentage of the Bible (between 1/4th and 1/3rd of it) is devoted to prophecy. Some of the prophecy has already been fulfilled. The rest of it is still waiting for fulfillment. Biblical prophecies are different from other prophecies in that all of them do come to pass, and they are fulfilled exactly as foretold. In fact, the Bible's own standard is that if a person is known to have given a false prophecy, he should be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:5).
Fulfilled prophecy is one of the most powerful proofs that the Bible truly is the Word of God. Since all of the prophecies that should have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ were fulfilled to the finest detail, we can be sure that the Bible itself is God's revelation to man since no human writer could be 100% accurate. 2 Peter 1:21 says "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (NIV)
There were over 300 Old Testament prophecies about Messiah that were fulfilled by the life of Jesus Christ. Josh McDowell separates these into 61 different categories, and, following the argument of an older writer, Peter Stoner (Science Speaks), he says that if you just took 8 of these prophecies, the odds of a person coincidentally fulfilling all eight of these would be one in 10 to the 17th power. Since we can't easily picture what that means, he gave this illustration: Suppose you took the state of Texas and spread silver dollars two feet deep across the whole state, then marked just one of them and buried it somewhere in the state. Then, if you chose one person, blindfolded him, and told him to pick just one silver dollar, his chances of getting the marked one on his first try would be one in 10 to the 17th power! (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Vol. 1, pp. 144, 167)
Prophecies which have not yet been fulfilled yet are of great interest to Christians, and especially so today, because we see many of them beginning to come to pass in our own generation! Jesus said that the generation that sees these things start to be fulfilled will also see their completion because once the events of these "last days" begins, matters will escalate quickly. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."(Matthew 24:32-34) (NIV)
The thing that makes the study of prophecy challenging is that there are so many different trends to watch. In this site, we list more than 100 "Study Topics"! A few of these point to prophecies already fulfilled, but most of them are about things which are yet to be fulfilled (or are actually being fulfilled right now!). Some of these have other significant subdivisions also. "Signs of the Times" groups together several other topics which we will consider below.
So how do all these "pieces" fit together? We will give the broad outline of Biblical Prophecy now, and once you see "The Big Picture," it will make more sense to investigate various parts of the subject in detail.
We should also point out that not all Bible scholars agree on how future prophecy will be fulfilled. Do not let this disturb you, because as interesting and important as the subject is, people can have very different views about prophecy and still agree on the most important aspects of Christianity, especially on the Life and Work of Jesus Christ and on the salvation He provides for all who believe. There are some who think that future prophecies will not be fulfilled literally, but that they merely have spiritual meaning. Most of these consider themselves "Amillennial" (meaning "no Millennial Kingdom" in the future.) Others, who do expect a literal fulfillment of all these things in the future, sometimes disagree on issues such as the timing of the Rapture, or the "catching away" of the Church. Those who believe the Rapture will take place soon, before the events of the Tribulation (which we will explain below), are known as "Pre-Trib," while those who think the Rapture will take place in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation are known as "Mid-Trib," or "Post-Trib." Some even think the Rapture will take place toward the very end of The Tribulation. They consider themselves "Pre-Wrath." There are other variations too, but it would be too confusing to follow this any further. The point is, that these people may all be equally committed to Christ even though they see future things differently. We should love one another anyway, and, if those who disagree with us are truly "born again," we should still consider them our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our position is "Pre-Trib." We agree with Bible teachers like Chuck Missler, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, Paul and Peter Lalonde, J.R. Church, Jack Van Impe and a host of other popular and scholarly teachers who believe that we are living in "The Last Days," and can expect to see Christ return in our generation. We don't believe in setting dates for His return, but believe it will be soon.
Jesus' own teaching about the future is found in His sermon on The Mount of Olives. He indicated that there would be four phases of the future. The rest of this article will follow His outline from The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24.
1A.. BEGINNING OF BIRTH PAINS - Matthew 24:4-8
This is a picture of the times in which we are living. This is the generation which has seen the rebirth of the nation of Israel, exactly as prophesied in Ezekiel, chapters 36 and 37. Such a thing has never happened in history, that a people who have been scattered for 2500 years could be brought back together and given their land again. Many miraculous events have enabled Israel to become a nation again in 1948 and to survive the hostility of all her enemies.
Earthquakes, Famines, Plagues, Wars and Rumors of Wars, Apostasy, Lawlessness, Persecution, Terrors in the Heavens. And False Christs are listed here and in the parallel passages (the other accounts of this same message in Mark 13 and Luke 21). These are often called the "Signs of The Times" because they are things which will start to happen before Christ comes and then become even worse during the Tribulation.
The events of this period of time are like the onset of labor pains. They are strong enough to let the mother know that the time of birth is near, but they are not as severe as they will be later. Thus, the dreadful events of the Tribulation are prefigured by many smaller versions of the same things before the intense trouble of the Tribulation actually begins.
2A. THE TRIBULATION - Matthew 24:9-14
According to Daniel 9:24-27, there were seventy weeks of Israel's history to be fulfilled. The word "week" literally means "seven," so 70 "weeks" could be 490 years. But there is a break. After the 69th week (7 + 62 "sevens"), it was prophesied that Messiah would be cut off. Then there would be one last "week" of seven years at a later time.
Sir Robert Anderson, the illustrious head of Scotland Yard, wrote The Coming Prince in 1895 to show that the first 69 "weeks" (69 times 7 = 483 years) were fulfilled exactly, to the very day, on the date that Jesus offered Himself as King - the day of "The Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem. (Grant R. Jeffrey, Armageddon: Appointment With Destiny, pp. 27-30.)
The events that last week of Israel's history have never transpired yet, but they must be fulfilled before the end of this age. The entire Church Age occurs between this 69th and 70th "weeks". The Church was a "mystery" (something hidden) in the Old Testament (Ephesians 3:9-10). It is a temporary "grafting in" of Gentiles until that future time when God's chosen people, Israel, will believe again (Romans, chapter 11).
The Church Age will end at the very beginning of this period of time. The Church Age is given in Revelation, chapters 1 through 3, but at the beginning of chapter 4, John is told to "come up here" into the heavenly realm where he viewed the events of The Tribulation. This corresponds to the Rapture spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.
This "week" is the same as the seven years of the Tribulation. During this time Antichrist will come into power, first over a Revived Roman Empire (Daniel 2), and then over most of the planet. This will be made possible because of an growing interest by Earth's citizens in a One-world government, or "New World Order." It will also be facilitated by an apostate one-world religion, led by New Age thinking which actually goes all the way back to the ancient corruption of Babylon. Daniel 9:27 indicates that Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel for seven years, and in the middle of it he will break the covenant and set up the "Abomination of Desolation" (Matthew 24:15), which will begin the next period, "The Great Tribulation."
The expression "Times of the Gentiles" is used in Luke 21:24 to refer to the period of time that Jerusalem will be under Gentile domination. It has been under Gentile control from that time until now. Even today, it is, in a sense, under Gentile domination, because its holiest spot, the Temple is held by Moslems. And even during the seven years of Antichrist's treaty, the city will be subject to the power of the Gentile world system. Antichrist will allow them to build their city and Temple, and then he will defile it.
One bright spot during this time is the fact that the Gospel will be preached "in the whole world," and "to all nations." This could be accomplished by the work of the 144000 sealed ones, by satellite technology from underground Christians, or, most probably, by the angels of Revelation 14:6-9 which preach the Gospel and warn people not to receive the Mark of the Beast.
3A. THE GREAT TRIBULATION - Matthew 24:15-28
This intensified period of trouble is called The Great Tribulation by prophecy scholars, following Christ's own description of the time as one of "great distress.".
The "abomination that causes desolation" is a clear reference to Daniel 9:27 where, in the middle of the "week" or seven-year peace treaty, Antichrist defiles the Temple by setting up an image of himself (Revelation 13:15) and demanding the worship of all. He will utilize Modern Technology to control an economic dictatorship so that only those who worship him and receive the Mark of the Beast will be allowed to buy or sell.
Antichrist will then will have forty-two months to reign. (Revelation 13:5, 14 - See also Revelation 11:3 and 12:6 where this period of time is specified as 1,260 days, which equals 3 1/2 years using the lunar calendar of 30 days per month --the normal Biblical month.
During these last three and one half years, the believing residents of Israel will flee from this tyrant into the mountains. This may be a reference to the place of God's protection for 42 months (Revelation 12:6), which many people believe will be the rose red city of Petra, the ancient capitol of the Edomites just east of the Dead Sea (in modern Jordan).
Verse 21 tells of a "great distress", worse than any other that has ever been or ever will be. The prophet Jeremiah described this time in the same way. He used the metaphor of "birth pains" in his prediction of a terrible future time of "Jacob's trouble" just before the time of ultimate blessing. (Jeremiah 30:5-8) The onset of labor pains before the Tribulation becomes hard labor during that time of "trouble," but something wonderful is about to be "born" when Jesus Christ returns as "King of Kings."
These last three years of Tribulation are covered by the Seven Trumpets and the Seven Vials of God's wrath in The Revelation, chapters 7 through 18.
4A. AFTER THE TRIBULATION - Matthew 24:29-31
This time corresponds to The Revelation, chapters 19 through 22. It is about "The End" and a New Beginning. According to Revelation 19:11-16, Jesus Christ will return to Earth as victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will destroy the forces of evil at the Battle of Armageddon. This is not the Rapture because the white-robed saints are already with Him as He descends. It is, rather, the gathering of the believers who have survived the Tribulation, and who will then populate the Millennial Kingdom.
According to Revelation 20, this Millennial Kingdom, or thousand years of Christ's righteous reign on Earth, will take place, and then be followed by one last rebellion by Satan, who will be bound in the Abyss during the thousand years, but released at the end. Satan will gather human rebels to fight this last war, but will be utterly defeated by Christ and cast into the Lake of Fire.
After the Great White Throne Judgment, God will then create a "New Heaven and Earth" where we will dwell eternally with Christ. There will be no pain, sorrow, or suffering there! (Revelation chapters 21 and 22).
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